Monday, 30 March 2015
Bob was a wizard. He lived in a tower which you could only reach by crossing the swampy forest. It made getting the groceries a little inconvenient, but he never lacked for leeches or toads for his spells. Now and then he would get visitors - Knights asking for magic swords, Peasants asking for potions, and sometimes even Kings asking for counsel. Most of the time what he gave them was common sense advice instead, but as long as he made some sparks puff from the end of his staff and his voice boom, they would go away happy. Some of them even took the advice, too.
One day he was sitting in his tower when there was a thump thump thump at the door. He glanced out of the window to see who his guest was (it always impressed if he could greet them by name) but he could only see a little girl.
A peasant come for a potion, no doubt, he thought. He scanned his shelf of ready made concoctions - mostly healing potions - and satisfied he probably had what she wanted, swept on his starry robe, grabbed his staff and made his way down the spirally stairs.
He swung the door open dramatically and in his deep grand voice said:
"Welcome little girl! I am Robert the Remarkable! Keeper of the tower and magical secrets! For what do you seek me out today?"
The girl stared up at him, her eyes as big a saucers, a wooden walking stick clutched to her chest. For a moment Bob thought that maybe he'd overdone his greeting and frightened her into silence - she was very small. But no, suddenly her face lit up into the biggest grin he had ever seen.
"Wow that was great!" she bounced up and down, then her face went serious again and she cleared her throat. When next she spoke, she was attempting to put on a deep booming voice. "My name is Emily the Extraordinary! I have come to be your apprentice!"
"You what?" Bob said, forgetting to make his voice deep or booming.
"I brought my own staff and everything!" She held up the walking stick proudly.
"Oh. Um, well aren't you a little young to be a wizard's apprentice?" he asked gently.
"No. My Mum said I could."
"Where's your Mum now?" He looked around, expecting to see a woman on the path from the forest - perhaps the girl had ran ahead.
"At home," she replied.
"You walked through the swampy forest yourself? Don't you know that's dangerous?!" Bob was amazed that she hadn't gotten eaten by a crocodile - or worse.
"It's ok, I already know a spell." She grinned proudly. "I used it if I met anyone, to protect myself, just like Mum said."
"Really?" Bob was impressed, despite knowing he ought to take her straight back home. "Which spell?"
He wasn't ready for it, else maybe he could have stopped her. He was expecting her to create some kind of shield, or a smoke screen or something.
"FROGGUS CROAKUS!" the girl yelled, pointing her walking stick at him.
"Noo-ibbit!" Bob shouted. She turned me into a frog! "Ribbit! Turn me back!"
"Oh," Emily looked down at him. "I don't know that one."
As soon as she'd finished speaking a dozen frogs hopped out of the forest, along the path to the tower, to his front door.
"There she is!" one of them croaked. "Turn us back! Or we'll tell the wizard that lives here what you've done!"
Well, thought Bob, this is going to be embarrassing when they realise who I am.
Thursday, 26 March 2015
The man from the city read a book on camping. It told him what he would need; tent, stove, USB solar charger (to make sure your phone was charged - mustn't forget your phone), pots and pans, spork, boil in the bag meals, energy bars, water bottle, sleeping bag, canvas trousers that zip off at the knees, a shirt, a waterproof jacket and a fleece, hat, walking stick (come in a range of colours), hiking boots, thick socks, compass, first aid kit, torch, whistle... the list went on and on. He considered it carefully and went to the camping shop where he bought the best quality two-man tent (this one wouldn't even get blown away in a hurricane! the salesman claimed), clothes and a gas stove, cooking pots (specifically for the gas stove), eating utensils and a selection of silver foil vacuum packed meals. He chose a blue walking stick, and ended up buying two, because the salesman insisted two was better. He got the charger and the torch and the whistle, maps and a guide book.
Finally he was ready to go. He drove to the campsite, pitched his tent, and chatted to the other campers - compared walking sticks and solar chargers, then phones. He enjoyed discussing their cars, parked in the carpark, and which did the most miles to the gallon. They ate the boil-in-the-bag curries, but didn't really enjoy them. Still that was part of camping. He used his twin walking sticks to hike around the marked trail through the wood, while chatting on the phone to his brother about being in the wilderness... oh and had he played that new video game set in a forest yet?
When the man went home, he was satisfied. He had done camping properly, just like the book had told him to do.
A man from the city decided to go camping. His cousin had an old tent he could borrow, so he shoved a few things he thought he might need into a backpack and set out. He found a good place to pitch his tent in the campsite, and collected some sticks to build a fire. He chatted to the other campers about different places they had been, mountains and lakes and valleys that he should visit. One of them showed him how to catch fish from the river and which plants you could eat, and they baked the fish and the tubers in the fire. They were delicious. Afterwards the man shared a bag of marshmallows, which they toasted over the fire on green twigs. The next day they went walking. The man found a sturdy stick to use as a walking stick, and one of the other campers explained how he could even carve it and keep it as a memento of his trip. He saw birds and animals scurrying across their path, and that night he looked up and saw the stars for the first time. When the man went home he was satisfied. He had done camping properly, he felt it in his bones.
Wednesday, 25 March 2015
It's been a long time. Six years, nine months, and four days. I've marched through jungles and deserts, I met the enemy in forests and towns. Rain swirled with fire, dust blew with ash. I forgot what life was before. I tried to remember sunny days by the coast, the sun, the sand the waves, but all I could see when I closed my eyes was the baking stretches of desert and the crash of shells and mortars. I tried to imagine my family - my children, what would they look like now? I couldn't conjure it - they are still babies in my mind.
But now they tell us that the war is over. We no longer have to fight - we can go home. They loaded us onto ships and we spent long weeks on the ocean. Every unfamiliar bang or creak had us panicking and reaching for our rifles - but no, we no longer needed them. Finally we were free once more. We spoke of our dreams. Friends I had known for half a decade spoke of farming and gardens, flowers and walks in the country with such life and enthusiasm... we spoke of a paradise. No war, no fear, no death, just families laughing, roses at the door, bread on the table.
But it seems the war didn't just happen overseas.
My family are tired-eyed and fearful. My children hide from me - the stranger that has come home. They live in canvas now, and their rations are worse than what we were fed on the march. The townsfolk have hollow eyes and thin faces. There is no laughter. We take a walk through the old village, up the lane where we would walk holding hands and picking blackberries in the sun.
I stand before my home, an empty shell of blackened brick and shattered glass.
Tuesday, 24 March 2015
"The thing about learning to fly a spaceship is there is no "up" in the conventional sense... however... things can still be above you," the instructor pointed out with tired patience.
"Yeah, uh sorry about that. I didn't see him," the student fidgeted in the pilot's chair, making the old leather creak.
"No need to apologise to me," the instructor replied. "I have insurance." He glanced up at the huge freighter that they had become entangled with.
"The question is, do they?"
"They're bound to, right? I mean, a ship that size..."
"That's a Blogspart ship."
"Oh. I've never met a Blogspart. But I've heard that they're rich right...? There's not much damage... maybe-"
There was a echoing knock on the airlock. Both instructor and student glanced back over their shoulder.
"I hope you know how to fight better than you know how to steer."
"The Blogspart aren't known for talking." The instructor got up and went to the airlock control.
"You're not going to let it in?!" the student wailed.
He pressed the green panel, and the airlock opened. A tiny alien, not more than a foot tall, waddled onto the ship.
"I just wanted to let you know, the antenna on your ship snapped off. We can fix that if you like?"
"Oh that would be very kind of you. We'll pay for the damage, of course."
"No need, no need. It's just a scratch. Well, good luck with your lessons. Don't forget to look up next time!" The alien waved at the student and then waddled off, back out the airlock.
"I thought you said that we'd need to fight?" the student asked, once the Blogspart was gone.
"Got them mixed up with the Blagsport," his instructor shrugged. "Blogspart are lovely."
It didn't take long for the Blogspart to fix the antenna and untangle the two ships.
"Now, take us out of the port."
The student nodded and hit the upper thrusters. The ship lurched downwards and banged into a skiff.
"Oh," his instructor said. "That's a Blagsport ship."
Monday, 23 March 2015
The book is older than it looks. The leather is still supple, the gold embossed on the cover still bright. "The book of Directions" is written above a symbol - arrows spreading out in a star. You flip it open on a random page. There is an arrow pointing down the centre of the page, in solid black ink. Around it, the text is handwritten, but as clear as print. It says only three words: "You are here."
Thursday, 19 March 2015
They gathered in what had once been the small hall of the castle - now a lavish sitting room. The famous detective, Robert Milton, stood in front of the huge fireplace, waiting for the guests to assemble. They drifted in, in ones and twos, sitting in the massive floral armchairs. All of them seemed at ease, not betraying even the slightest hint that they had anything to hide. Lady Woodhall even called out for brandy, and a few snifters were passed around, as if it were any normal gathering.
"You all know why we're here," the detective started, giving each equal measure with his gaze. "The murder of Lord Blackfield took place in this very room."
"We're aware, old chap. Who didn't hear him scream that night?" Langton grinned at the other guests assembled.
"Yes... and perhaps you heard him best of all Horatio Langton. The rope marks around his neck suggest someone with great strength pulled that noose tight..."
"I didn't like the old fool, but neither did I kill him. I told you before, I was in my bathroom, having a shave when I heard the cry. Why, I'd only just washed off the last of the foam, I came down in my vest to see what had happened!"
"So you say, but who shaves at eleven in the morning?" the detective shrugged dramatically.
"I hadn't long been up and thought I should make myself presentable for dinner." Langton frowned in annoyance. Milton nodded slowly.
"As it happens, Mr Langton here is telling the truth."
"But he's the only one strong enough to have choked the old boar." Miss Quincy protested.
"So the killer wants us to think. But, there is one thing that all of you have agreed on, without a doubt: You all heard Lord Blackfield scream. I ask you, Miss Quincy, how did he scream if he was being choked?"
Miss Quincy shifted uncomfortably.
"And is it not a fact, that you, Miss Quincy, were the female junior weightlifting champion only five years ago?"
"But I haven't lifted weights for two years, due to an injury!"
"So you would have us believe. But I saw you lifting that cast-iron pot yesterday, and I realised that you are only pretending that your injury has prevented you from lifting. You're stronger than you look."
Miss Quincy turned red and looked away.
"However... you were only trying to hide that fact from... Colonel Ryers. You liked him and he had expressed how he liked "pretty little delicate things" and you, in your foolishness had tried to hide who you were to impress him."
Colonel Ryers looked over at Miss Quincy in shock.
"Is this true Nanette?"
"It is," she sighed.
"You can lift? That's damned impressive," the Colonel grinned. "Damned impressive - I should like to see that."
"Really. Oh Nanette - you should have told me! I love you!"
"Oh Antony! I love you too!"
"It is well then, that the Colonel is not the killer, I should hate to have to separate you when you have just found each other," Milton smiled gently.
"Enough of this old boy! Tell us, who killed Lord Blackfield!" Lord Tatham cried.
"I would not have thought you so impatient for the killer to be revealed... Lord Tatham. For it was your very own lady wife!" The detective rounded on Lady Tatham, who had remained quiet until now, and she nearly choked on her brandy.
"Me? You are quite mistaken!"
"No mistake, madam. You are the killer!" The detective started to pace in front of the fire. "You see, the thing that I couldn't understand about Lord Blackfield's death was why he had a theater mask in his hand? He was no actor, or collector of memorabilia such as this. But he was a skilled evaluator - he knew the worth of a range of old pieces. You, Lady Tatham, worked in the theater as a girl, before you married Lord Tatham - and you knew the tricks of the stage!"
"This is absurd!"
"Is it? Think on this - the mask was an exact replica of the Mask of Hiburn, a valuable piece that went missing over thirty years ago. This one was worthless, but to the untrained eye.... well only an expert would be able to tell it wasn't the real thing. An expert like Lord Blackfield. You had hoped to sell the mask to relieve the pressure on your accounts - oh yes, I know of Lord Tatham's financial troubles! However Lord Blackfield saw the mask and recognising it, asked for a closer look. How could you deny him? He was your host and if you had said no, he would have doubted its Genuineness. However, if he looked at the mask he would also know it to be a fake. What to do? You did the only thing you could do - you painted the inside of the mask with a poison, so clever, that when he touched it he would be overcome - you had hoped it would look like a heart attack." He raised a finger, captivating the audience.
"But! You didn't account for the pain - oh yes this poison is deadly - but it takes time to work. Time enough that Lord Blackfield would have been able to cry out. One scream was enough - you knew you had to keep him quiet. You grabbed the curtain rope and put it around his neck to cut off his screams. No doubt you wouldn't have had the strength to choke him if he had been able to fight back, but he was weak from the poison. You were able to hold him there in silence while he died. When you removed the rope you saw the burns to his neck; an unintended effect, but one that you were quite pleased would throw everyone off your trail."
"Margret!" Lord Tatham gasped, "Is this true?"
"Yes it is!" Lady Tatham stood, the meek veil removed to reveal her in her unrepentant glory. "I did it for us William! Can't you see? We would have lost everything."
"Oh Margret..." Lord Tatham shook his head sadly.
"Sargent." Milton nodded to the bobby lurking in the back of the room, and he stepped forward to escort Lady Tatham away.
"Bravo, Mr. Milton," Lady Tatham applauded as she retreated from the room. "Another case solved."
Wednesday, 18 March 2015
The problem with guarding the Fountain of Youth was that it was just so boring. All it did was sit there, and all Fred did was sit there too. It had been interesting when he'd first arrived, all exotic and scenic. But now that the standard metal fences had gone up, and the standard booth had been installed, it had lost that mystic charm and been reduced to just another attraction to be watched overnight. Fred stretched and flicked his gaze over the CCTV monitors in the booth. They showed the same as they had ten minutes ago, and the same as they had yesterday, and the same as they had the month before and for the past year. Boring.
But wait! A jeep, approaching from the south...
He leaned forward and watched it trundle up the road towards his booth. It stopped just around the corner.
"Oh come on, stop arguing about whether it's a good idea or not and come try and talk me into letting you in."
Finally the jeep set off again, and he looked up to see headlights rounding the corner. With a grin on his face he straightened his tie, checked his weapon holster and clicked on his torch. He then stepped out of the booth and waved the jeep to stop.
A young woman wound down the driver-side window.
"Oh hello," she said, flustered.
"Can I help you miss?" Fred replied with his sternest expression, while flashing the torch into the faces of the car's occupants. Three women, all in their early twenties.
"Oh erm, well, we were just wondering if you'd let us in to see the fountain?" She gave her best smile, although it didn't reach her eyes.
"Oh well, uh, ok, sorry to bother you." She started to wind the window back up.
"Now, wait just a minute!" Fred stopped her in her tracks.
"Yes, sir?" The woman's eyes had grown wide and fearful.
"That's all you're going to try to get in? Ask me nicely? Come on. There's three of you. Maybe you could try to rush me, tie me up and steal my keycard, eh?"
"No? Well how about I pretend to be asleep? You can get in and then I can stop you once you're inside the fence... be all like, "FREEZE OR I'LL SHOOT!""
"We don't want any trouble..." the woman quickly started to wind the window shut again.
"How far did you travel to get here tonight? Don't give up so easily! I'll give you a good head start!"
The woman slammed the jeep into reverse and roared backwards, away from Fred, then performed an excellent J-turn, and careered around the corner and out of sight.
Fred watched them go with a chuckle, then returned to his booth, put his feet up and pulled his cap down, and went to sleep, same as he did every night.